Federal prosecutors will get another crack at former state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno after the U.S. Court of Appeals denied his claim of double jeopardy Tuesday morning.
The four-page order handed down by three justices from the Second Circuit found that the government was able to charge Bruno with the same two counts of honest services fraud under a bribery and kickback case. Bruno, who fought to have the indictment dismissed on two separate double jeopardy grounds at the district court level in December, remained resolute in fighting the latest decision, even if it means taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I am very disappointed by today’s decision,” he said in a news release. “There are serious issues at stake involving constitutional rights and protections against double jeopardy that should not go unchallenged.”
Read the court ruling on the Capital Region Scene blog
In reaching their conclusion, the panel rejected Bruno’s assertion that federal prosecutors “abandoned” their quid pro quo theory during his original 2009 trial and that his acquittal on five other charges reflected a finding by the jury that he did not scheme to defraud. Instead, the justices found the latest charges lodged by prosecutors were based on new arguments stemming from Bruno being found guilty on two counts of honest services fraud —a pair of convictions that were vacated by the Second Circuit in 2010.
“While Bruno argues that the now-vacated convictions should be considered a non-event and the jury’s determinations on those counts should be ignored, there is no legal or factual support for this proposition,” the justices stated in their order.
Bruno was found guilty by a jury trial on two charges of honest services fraud on allegations he had undisclosed conflicts of interest while serving in the Senate, including accepting money from friends who had business pending before state government. He was ordered to serve two years in prison but he was allowed to remain free as he pursued his appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently redefined the honest services fraud law to require proof of bribery or kickbacks. This allowed the Second Circuit to void Bruno’s convictions for not containing such proof.
But federal prosecutors obtained a new indictment in May 2012, alleging that Bruno received a total of $440,000 in payments from businessman Jared Abbruzzese between 2004 and 2006, including $80,000 he received in exchange for a “virtually worthless” horse. The government argues these payments — the same ones that led to Bruno’s conviction during his first trial — now meet the legal definition of a bribe or kickback.
Bruno’s defense team contends that the case can’t be retried a second time using a different definition of the crime.
Prosecutors maintain they can legitimately take Bruno to trial again using the redefined law, since his first convictions were overturned. They argued the double jeopardy clause would only apply to counts in which the former majority leader was acquitted.
“Here, because of the reversal of Bruno’s convictions due to [legal] instructional error, he is in continued jeopardy, and there is no double jeopardy bar to retrial,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth C. Coombe wrote in court documents before the order.
Bruno, 84, of Brunswick, was Senate majority leader for 14 years and considered one of the most powerful politicians in the state until resigning amid a federal investigation in 2008. He is often credited with steering state money to the Capital Region during his tenure, laying the groundwork for much of the high-tech development that has happened in recent years.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian indicated that he’ll seek resolution to the case by trial in short order. In response, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe set a status conference on Tuesday in Albany to discuss the future of the case.
In his statement, Bruno indicated that the ongoing legal issues have worn on him. Still, he also vowed to continue fighting to prove his innocence.
“This has been a long ordeal for me and my family, over seven years,” he said. “But I intend to continue this fight and believe that in the end I will be vindicated.”